By Johnathan Lim (23S03M) and Venkatesan Ranjana (23A01D)
You are at the party of your not-so-close friend. Someone suggests playing “Burning Bridges”. People sit in a circle facing each other. The first round starts with the people across you. They giggle and shove each other before pointing at you.
Hm, seems like something is funny, maybe I’ll ask them about it later.
You play rock paper scissors. You lose.
Oh well, next round then.
As chronic overthinkers, this might sound like an unachievable dream. It certainly seems more productive than having this bother you for the rest of the day. But is it really what we want?
To Feel Sad, Please Press One
If you think about it, living without “overthinking” at all would be quite miserable. For one, overthinking is our rather unfortunate manner of avoiding the alternative of repressing our emotions.
Let’s return to the game of burning bridges. Most of us, when pointed at, would have been propelled into the spiral of guessing what the question could have been. Whatever comes to your mind probably points to your worries about how you are perceived.
If your first thought is that the question might be something like “who is most likely to die alone” then your greatest concern is likely to be that people find you hard to love.
Alternatively, if you’re a bit of a senior overthinker, you might find yourself thinking it might be “who is most likely to become a celebrity?” But rather than thinking that you’re star material, you’re instead worried that they think you’re too much of a diva.
While it might be unpleasant in the moment, overthinking is ultimately worth experiencing because it helps you pinpoint the roots of these horrible feelings and understand yourself just a little bit better.
If you had no thoughts, you wouldn’t overthink, but you would go about life in a flurry of unexplained emotions. Or, on the flip side, you might end up coming across as cold and detached.
Imagine you made plans with your friend for a picnic, but on the morning itself, the weather is terrible. If you had no thoughts beyond the immediate present, you would text your friend: “guess we can’t go out today”.
Maybe this is desirable as opposed to stressing out over how to deal with the sudden change, having to alter your plans at the last minute to have an equivalent experience to a picnic, wondering whether your friend will be as satisfied… But to your friend, it may sound as though you weren’t exactly thrilled to meet them in the first place.
The thing is, it is not realistic to expect that no one overthinks. Particularly when you are with people that you care about, you overthink about the subtext in their words and what they actually mean.
Essentially, we might desire to be in a state of “head empty, no thoughts”, when we are overstimulated and wish for silence. But the truth of the matter is that human emotions are often more than just that—they have bearing on our actions and our relationships, and we need to accept them in all their complexity.
Please Touch Some Grass
But then again, the more rational (and perhaps unfeeling) voice in your brain is not wrong. Your worries about the “Burning Bridges” prompt do not help those at the party form a better opinion of you.
In fact, what are you even worried about? Okay, maybe they secretly don’t like you. Big deal. So they don’t invite you to a few outings of theirs, but do you really want to hang out with someone who doesn’t like you in the first place?
Consider this flowchart:
Source: Zen Flowchart | No reason to worry about something you can/can’t fix right?
As you begin to wrap your head around this bizarre line of logic, you’ll begin to realise that it really is as the stoics say:
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality” – Seneca the Younger
The person is probably not going to try and ruin your life just because they are not fond of you. I mean, would you care enough to actively inconvenience someone you don’t like?
And as you rationalise the situation, you may soon come to realise that your battles are all in your head. Your so-called worries about externalities probably don’t matter at the end of the day.
But that doesn’t mean that they hold no weight. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Rational Direction, Emotional Application
Adopting a more rational framework doesn’t entail ignoring your emotions, but rather incorporating them into it. When you’re irrationally sad, you shouldn’t repress your emotions to “become more rational”. Instead, you should accord that emotion with the care and concern you would with, say, a “Burning Bridges” prompt.
If you take a rational moment to think about things, you would realise that there are no actual consequences for your “worries” from externalities. There are, however, consequences for not dealing with your irrational internalities. So maybe, the most rational thing to do is to deal with your emotions.
Ultimately, overthinking should be less of a burden and more of a slightly troublesome yet valuable tool in your arsenal. After all, it is the most empathetic mode of communication.
When you’re talking to someone who matters to you, overthinking is an underlying language in your conversation—it reveals how much you care about their thoughts and feelings, so as to not trample on them.
But that is not to say that you should let it take over your life. Sometimes, it helps to be more straightforward. Shoot them an “are we okay?” text and go about your day knowing you made an effort at communication.
So, if you’re considering the ‘head empty, no thoughts’ lifestyle, only show it to people who are deserving of it. After all, it’s a luxury people have to earn.